Audio Tour of Selected Objects
Wisteria lamp

Tiffany Studios
American (firm active 1902-1932)
Wisteria table lamp, c. 1902
leaded glass and bronze
Lillian Nassau Ltd., New York

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No American designer was more closely linked with Art Nouveau than Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose luminous glass designs wedded bold technical innovations with the highest artistry. Illuminated from within by the newly invented light bulb, his lamps, such as this one designed in 1902, glowed with colorful representations of nature.

Tiffany adapted his glass lamp shades from his stained-glass window designs, making the lead rods that surround each piece of glass an integral part of his composition. This lamp is shaped so that the stained glass resembles the drooping purple flowers of the wisteria plant. The striking naturalism is reinforced by the lamp's bronze stand, which is shaped like a thick vine or tree trunk with spreading roots at the base.

Tiffany's magical renderings of plants and insects in his glass stemmed from his lifelong love of nature. Son of Charles Tiffany, the founder of the famed jewelry store, Louis began his career as a painter but in 1878 gave it up to open his own interior design firm in New York.

He declared, "Craftsmen...are nearer the people, for they fabricate useful objects belonging to daily life, while the artist who produces objects of the fine arts, so called, is more remote."

But Tiffany's typical clients were far from ordinary people. His most important designs were for Fifth Avenue mansions and the White House, and he became one of the most important designers in "Gilded Age" America, an era marked by enormous wealth and philanthropy generated by the growth of industry.

Tiffany became interested in the artistic potential of glass in 1889 after visiting Europe, where he encountered Venetian and ancient Roman glass as well as the work of the great French artist Émile Gallé, whose designs can be seen in this exhibition. Like Gallé's, Tiffany's lamps and vases are faithful to the details of nature and are far less abstract than the work of younger designers such as the Belgian Victor Horta. By 1906 more than 125 lamp-shade designs could be ordered from Tiffany's studio, fulfilling his dream of introducing the average homeowner to his luminous art.